Beaufort County Schools prepares for cuts in 2011

Published 3:20 am Friday, November 5, 2010

Staff Writer

Beaufort County public school leaders are preparing for cuts in the 2011-2012 fiscal-year budget that could total more than 15 percent, a situation they have compared to “falling off a cliff.”
In addition to state budget cuts that could reach as high as 15 percent, Beaufort County Schools is facing the loss of more than $3 million in federal stimulus dollars — some of which were used to offset this year’s state budget cuts — and the end of an agreement with the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners that guaranteed specific appropriations to the local school system.
BCS Superintendent Don Phipps said local school leaders in recent years have prepared the school system’s budget with the “worst case” in mind, which has, to date, prevented employee lay-offs and dramatic changes in classroom operations.
But such a “worst-case scenario” for 2011-2012 would bring substantial changes, including the loss of jobs, increased class sizes and the elimination of course offerings.
“Each year, we try to estimate with the worst-case scenario,” Phipps said in a recent interview with the Washington Daily News. “But this year’s worst-case scenario would be a terrible, terrible thing.”
Gov. Beverly Perdue earlier this year asked all state agencies to come up with plans to cut 5, 10, and 15 percent from their budgets next year, including the Department of Public Instruction, which translates into $394 million, $788 million, or $1.138 billion in reductions statewide, according to recent reports.
That’s in addition to a 0.5 to 1 percent pay-back the state may require in early 2011 of the schools and other state agencies from this fiscal year’s budget.
Perdue also has said she does not want to continue the 2009 tax increase that expires at the end of the year when federal stimulus dollars also disappear and the new Republican leadership in the N.C. Legislature also is expected to oppose such a tax increase. Statewide, public education received more than $700 million from the stimulus plan last year.
“I truly don’t believe any elected official wants to hurt education.” Phipps said. “But from a financial standpoint, there is no legislation being considered that would provide relief.”
“Public schools are going to have to focus on getting to the plate before it’s empty,” he said.
Some $39.6 million, or 57 percent, of the Beaufort County Schools 2010-2011 revenue came from state appropriations; $15.8 million, or 23 percent, from local appropriations, $13 million, or 19 percent, from federal appropriations, and $817,835, or 1 percent, from fund balance.
Phipps said he and other school administrators this month are preparing a detailed report on the effects of 5-, 10- and 15-percent cuts in state funding to give members of the Beaufort County Board of Education and the public a better understanding of the effects of each of these cuts on the 7,000 students in the local school system as well as its teachers and staff.
“I don’t want the classrooms to suffer,” he said. “But we are much closer to the breaking point than we’ve ever been.”
Beaufort County Schools will benefit from careful spending in recent years, Phipps said, pointing to “the lion’s share” of some $1.4 million in jobs-related funding the system received but chose to put aside to lessen the effects of future cuts.
Phipps’ comments about the future of public school funding come on the heels of a recent report from the Public School Forum of North Carolina that details the effects of statewide cuts in education funding.
The report, “Race to the Bottom,” says that the problem isn’t just the $3 billion state budget shortfall, it is that public schools are already dramatically underfunded.
North Carolina ranked 42 of 50 states in per-pupil spending in 2008-2009, the last year for which data is available, and the public-schools budget has been slashed $682 million since then, according to the report.
The state would have to spend $2.1 billion to come up to the national average, according to the report.
The report also says there’s a chance that the state’s per-pupil spending could end up dead last among the 50 states if the temporary tax increases expire and the cuts are made.